IN THE BEGINNING," said Brian, "there was water, water for millions of years. Aquarius." Brian sat up in bed. Without the blanket his shoulders looked thin, the skin of his back pale and waxy, freckled. Frishta put her hand on the back of his neck. He grasped her hand in both of his and looked at her, his eyes burning. "And God moved upon the face of the waters. There was the next Age of Man, Aries, when man rose up out of the waters. This was Moses, the nomads tending their flocks. And sacrifice. The blood of the Ram flowed upon the face of the earth."
Frishta whimpered. She tried to pull her hand from his bruising grasp. He threw it down in disgust. Frishta said, "Sitvar would kill you if he knew you hurt me."
Brain turned from her. He assumed the Posture of the Buddha, his calves folded against his thighs, his hands resting on his knees, his fingers curled into the circle of Om. "Sitvar is a maniac." His fingers trembled. His eyes wandered in their sockets. "Then came Taurus, the age of agriculture, pastures, the fatted calf. Then Jesus, Son of God, walked upon the earth, and his sign was Pisces, the two fish like the two bars of His Cross. And out last age has been machines, technology, tools of destruction. Sagittarius. Only it is over. We live in a Time of Cups, and we must ready ourselves spiritually for the next age, the Age of Love, Gemini, Castor and Pollux. That is why I am here. I have come to know." Brain smiled pacifically.
Frishta lay still. Brain smiled Frishta said, "I'm going to get up." She did. Brian smiled aloof at the level of her knees--the mattress lay on the floor. Frishta began to wrap herself in her sari, spangled paisley, and its turns threw her into pirouettes. She began to twirl about the room and to sing high, tuneless notes.
"What are you doing?" Brian did not smile. He looked up at her with his head back and to one side as if he had been insulted. His fingers curled into fists.
"I'm going home." Frishta's words were parenthetical to her singing.
"Home? Now? To Sitvar?"
"Yes. And to Ro, My lovely Ro, My darling." Frishta redoubled her twirling, her singing.
"Ah," said Brian, mother love." His fingers resumed Om. "I am going to Glastonbury."
Frishta staggered, and sat abruptly. She pressed her hands against the floor. She smiled weakly. "Dizzy."
Brian tried again. "Glastonbury! I'm going to Glastonbury!" He leapt up and fumbled underneath the blanket for his pants.
"They've been sighting flying saucers there. And the day is auspicious for travel."
"Messengers. Waiting for one to come who can understand them. I must go." Brain buttoned his fly.
"You can't go. You to give Straight Mick the money." Frishta stood and walked carefully to the bedroom door.
"I'll wait for him. Where are you going?"
"Home?" Frishta looked back at him over her shoulder. "To the bathroom."
Brain chuckled with friendly advice. "Watch your stools, They are your body's way of telling you what it wants."
Frishta turned to the door. "Yes, I suppose. But I don't know what to look for." Brian began "Pay attention. . ." but Frishta opened the door and stepped out. She stepped on the calf of a boy sleeping in front of the door, his upturned coat collar half-hiding his face. He retracted into a ball before he woke up, so that Frishta almost slipped as he pulled his leg out from under her.
He first looked up at her with startled eyes, fearful, until he realized he was awake. He found his hands around his calf. "Ow."
He was as young as Brian. Frishta peered at him. The central room was always dark because magazine pictures had been pasted over the sole window. The pictures themselves glowed translucently like stained galss, but the light in the room was as browned and tired as the most yellowed paper. Frishta asked, "who are you?"
"Tom said I crash." The boy nodded towards the couch. The couch's horsehair splendor showed its stuffing; one end was splayed so that it rested a foot lower than the other. Tom lay rumpled with his head at the low end--he felt the extra blood improved his dreams. His eyes were open. For Frishta his face was upside down. She scowled to keep his mouth from seeming eyebrows. Tom said, "That's Sven. He's Norwegian."
Frishta nodded to him. "Hello." She nodded to Tom. "Why didn't you sleep in Phil's room?"
"Michael's in there with some guy of his."
"Oh." Frishta shuffled towards the kitchen and bathroom.
Tom sat up. Brian walked into the room, stepping carefully over the boy, "Hello." The boy drew his legs up, nodding at them dumbly, in apology. He pushed himself into a corner and answered carefully, "Hello." His English was not good. There was a clicking of fingernails drummed against the window. Brian looked at Tom, alert, in case of police. Brian sidled up to the window and looked out a peephole cut from the paper eye of the Buddha., "It's straight Mick." Brian undid the chain, the bolt, and the key lock of the door.
In a brief puff of cold air and light, Mick entered the room, grinning, clapping his hands with cold. He unbuttoned his navy blue businessman's overcoat and held it out like a cape, strutting about the room. Under the coat he wore a jacket and a narrow silver tie. "Dig the coat, man! Dig the coat!"
"Frishta returned carrying a large bowl of spiced garbanzo beans with one hand and a fistful of chopsticks with the other. "That coat?"
"Frishta! It's the coat for Crete. Double lining. One hundred pockets, one hundred six-inch sticks of Beirut Beige, nicest shit west of Afghanistan. Cost me twenty quid, this coat." He looked at Brain, who was chaining the door. "I got those false-bottomed suitcases from Tchaik, too. That's another five kilos." Mick half closed his eyes and sucked air between his two fingers, as if he were smoking.
Tom leaned back on the couch to say almost falsely, "You're big time now, man."
Mick affirmed, "Damned right. Flying there and back. No more of these fucking Portobello Road busts for me." Mick took off his coat.
Brian said, "I warn you, man. Next week is a better week to do it."
Fuck your stars. My score is splitting Crete day after tomorrow."
Brian said smugly, "They're your balls." He joined Frishta on the couch with Tom and took chopsticks.
"And I'll worry about them. Just give me your share of the bread."
Brian took four crumpled ten pounds notes from his pocket and tossed them on the floor. Mick picked them up and glared at Brian. The three on the couch ate intently, their eyes on the bowl, not Mick. The boy in the corner stood up. Mick stepped back. "Who's this?"
Tom motioned to him with chopsticks. "Here, man, eat." The boy knelt in front of Frishta, who held the bowl on her knees, and he fumbled with the chopsticks. Tom showed him how to hold them.
Indicating the beans, Frishta ventured, "Shall I get Michael?"
Tom grinned at Brian, then at Mick. "Hell, no. He's been lapping cream all night." They all laughed, even the boy.
In his merriment, Brian conciliated Mick, who took pride in his cigarette rolling. "Make us a couple, Mick. There's papers by my bed."
Mick patted his jacket pocket before he reached into it. "I've got some. What's your shit?"
"It's the end of Phil's and Maureen's Moroccan stuff." Brian pointed to the gas stove opposite the couch. It sat on a small tile hearth. On the hearth were a pebble of black hashish and a package of cigarette tobacco.
Mick sat crosslegged by the hearth and began to lick the cigarette papers together. "Is this all you have left?" Brian nodded., "It's lucky I'm scoring now." Mick pinched tobacco into the double length papers.
Tom asked, "When are you coming back?"
"Next Tuesday. Nine at night. "I'll come direct like from the airport." Mick tore two strips of cardboard from the papers packet and rolled them into filters for his cigarettes. He held the chunk of hashish in his palm. "Has this been toasted?"
"No, man." The eaters ate rapidly, greedily, as they reached the bottom of the bowl. The boy was not quick enough.
With his thumbnail Mick gouged out a pea-sized bit of hashish. He took a box of matches from his pocket, and held the bit between two matches while he lit them with a third. They flared. He blew out the flame, and began with his fingernail to scrape specks of the scorched hashish into the tobacco.
Tom dropped his chopsticks in the bowl and sat back on the couch. Brian ate the last bean. The boy sat dumb in the middle of the floor, still facing Frishta. Frishta peered at Mick's hands. "You still can't make a joint like Sitvar, Mick. Your paper burns to fast."
"Christ, he practiced like a fiend. With plain tobacco, too." Mick smiled with fondness for past times. He gave his smile to Frishta. "Remember when you two lived here and Phil was on the couch?"
Frishta blinked and looked at her hands in her lap. She was not sure what she was supposed to remember.
Mick wetted the final tightening papers on his handiwork. He put one of the long cigarettes in his won mouth, and glancing at Brian, gave the other to the boy, who smiled. He held a match out for the boy. Brian leaned forward on the couch. Mick relinguished his cigarette. They smoked in silence and motion, intent on inhaling deeply and on passing the cigarettes back and forth. The cigarettes burned unevenly, so it took care to keep the burning tips from falling off.
Brian blew out his lungs with, "I'm going to Glastonbury." Mick looked at him, then shook his head at the floor.
Tom said, "Saucers, what?" A burning ember dropped onto his lap. He brushed it off, saying, "Shit." He gave the cigarette to Frishta.
Mick said, "The other one is burning better."
Brain said, "Yes for the saucers."
Frishta said, "And teacups."
Tom said to Frishta, "Fuck you."
Mick said, "Do you have any tea?"
The boy offered a smoldering cardboard filter to Tom, who took it, stood up, and said to Mick, "Give me yours. I'll flush them." Mick did. Tom left for the bathroom.
Frishta said to Mick, "No."
Eyes wandered over silence to the center of the room, to the boy. The boy moved uneasily, and said to Frishta, "Good smoke." He smiled briefly. No one spoke.
Tom returned from the kitchen, wearing his coat. He crouched down on all fours and reached under the couch behind Brian's legs to get his boots. Brain would not move his legs. Tom sat on the floor to pull on his boots. He said to the boy, "Split, man? You want to come with me?"
The boy stood. He was fully dressed, as he had slept. He nodded. "I come with you."
Mick, Frishta and Brian gazed in abstraction at where the boy had been as he followed Tom out the door. Frishta started at the slam and the cold air. She pulled her legs underneath her. She looked at Brian, who looked at nothing, and at Mick, who took his coat and stood up to put it on, explaining, "I've got to finished my rounds." Brian looked at Mick. Frishta watched his hands button his coat. "Cheerio."
Brian chided, "I've warned you, man."
Immediately Frishta interjected, sober and serious, "straight Mick! Good-bye."
Mick smiled at her. The spring lock clicked behind him. The room was soundless, motionless. Frishta listened. The gas stove snuffed quietly. From the wall behind the couch came a muted giggle and murmurings: Michael was awake. The couch creaked as Brian pulled his feet up to resume his posture of meditation. Frishta put her hand on the back of his neck. "Brian?"
He turned to her. "Yes?"
"The room is empty. They have all left vacuums."
To keep his attention, she repeated, "Brain?" He looked at her impatiently. Her voice was soft as her eyes wandered. "Promise me, if you meet them, at Glastonbury, promise me you'll tell me, what they say, about the Ages of Man. Promise me?"
Frishta dropped her hand in disappointment. "Brian?"
"What?" Brian was abrupt.
"Where will it all end, the Ages, Man?"
Brian smiled. He closed his fingers to signify Om, and his eyes. "The final Age of Man shall be Scorpio. The scorpion shall dance in the red desert, and shall sting itself to death." Brian closed his eyes more tightly, and was lost.
Frishta looked at her hands. She began to sing.
WHAT I LIKE about London is St. James Park. There couldn't be a London without St. James Park."
"What if they dropped an atom bomb and blew St. James Park away? Would you like London then?"
"They couldn't. They'd blow London away, too. There couldn't be a London without St. James Park."
"What if you changed your mind? Would you like London then?"
His face blanked at the question. He answered, mildly offended, "Then it wouldn't matter, or course, whatever they did to St. James Park." He looked away, up the street, determinedly, and sped his pace. They stopped talking, and puffed cold air with their paces. The street was crusted stop lights and neon glinting from gritty snow and ice broken jagged in gutter puddles, cracked ice over dark water and bits of refuse drowned below, and sometimes new ice on the water, a shimmer, ice thin as air, Cold as four in the morning in the street with wind.
"Quite," said Sitvar, still offended. A pause.
"Did you get that mescaline?"
"No, no. Changed my mind." They smiled at the words. Sitvar took Frishta by the arm. "Shall we jump in front of a car?" he cackled. He propelled them towards the traffic lanes. Frishta smiled tightly, excited. But there were no moving cars. There was no one, just electricity, light glinting, night glinting and blinking colors like an electronic sentry, an electrical expanse of insulated shop fronts and glowing arteries of transportation and the glow of the city, the nimbus concealing the sky. Sitvar and Frishta walked beneath, along the bare asphalt of a tire path in the street. Tires had crushed the snow beneath them to lick the asphalt black, a black now glistening with the encroachment of new ice, substanceless blue. They marched hunched down in their upturned collars, straining for heat, hands deep in pockets.
Frishta had one hand in her won pocket and one hand in Sitvar's tight pocket, warm under his hand, pressed against his thing so that her fingers moved back and flat, back and flat, as he strode. He looked straight ahead, and would not catch her eye as she looked at him. She bent the fingers of her hand to dig her figernails into his thing. He pressed her hand flat again, and pinned it, so that she could not move it. He did not look at her. Frishta bent near his ear, in confidence. "Brian went to Glastonbury. He left last week. He wanted to see a flying saucer."
Sitvar chuckled. "Did he. But there aren't any. He should have stayed here."
"Yes, he could have seen one here just as easily. After all, do you remember, he saw . . ." She looked at the frozen road with furrowed brow. "Who was it, he saw? Do you remember?"
"No, I only heard about it. I forget. Someone. It was a long time ago." He mused. "We first met at Brian's, remember? Such a long time. Brian, and Phil was just there, I think. Do you remember?"
She bent her neck so that she was very near him, her eyes near his mouth. She asked softly, as if tired, "Does it matter?"
He drew his head back to see her face. "I don't suppose it does matter." She was grinning nervously and would not look at him. Near her ear he said gloating, "But I remember. It was at Brian's and Phil as there."
"No, Sitvar, that was another time."
"When was it, then?"
"I don't remember. What does it matter?"
"It matters because I want to know."
"Don't be tedious. You can't know. Have we ever met?"
"Don't be ridiculous. I simply can't remember when."
"Do you understand? We haven't met." Frishta looked at him smugly.
He stopped them and ripped her hand out of his pocket and gripped her shoulders. "I could hit you. I could strangle you."
Frishta grinned at the ground. Her arms hung powerlessly from her shoulders. "It would hurt."
He relaxed his grip, and looked about guiltily. "Yes, it would hut, wouldn't it? I couldn't stand the pain." He took her hand and put it in his pocket. "Don't scratch me, you bitch." Frishta stood close to him, smiled at him, looked at his eyeballs. Sitvar smiled. "We're almost there." They went on.
Ahead Kensington Palace Road, banks and cheap restaurants and antique shops, joined Ladbroke Grove's pubs to form a broad intersection called Notting Hill Bush, the junction of four underground lines, five Red Coach local bus routes, and three Green Coach extended. It lay ahead, empty, silver-blue as its ice under mercury vapor lamps, and dark in the shadows. The bar and circle of Underground entrances marked its four corners, four proclamations of Notting Hill Bush buzzing against the vacant silence.
Sitvar pulled Frishta to the center of the intersection and stopped. He looked around full circle. "Which one should we go in?'
Frishta looked at each of the bar and circle sings. "I can't tell." Intently, she looked again at each in turn. "Consult the stars. "They looked up and tried to pierce beyond the brightness of mercury vapor. Frishta was trembling. grappling low branches with the breathing close behind him until he fell and slid and rolled himself down a steep slope deep into a thicket of nettles. He lay in the nettles and began to laugh at their pain loudly, victoriously, for he knew he was
"I can't see." Sitvar lowered his head. He looked anxiously at Frishta. "Besides, I can't read the stars."
"Neither can I." They turned around to all four entrances.
"Brain can read the stars."
"I know." He mused. "Where is Brian now, anyway?"
Frishta pulled her hand from Sitvar's pocket and faced him. "It's too cold. You must decide. You must choose which one."
Sitvar backed away from her a bit, then turned in the direction she was facing. An Underground entrance before them buzzed electrically, blue bar and red circle. "That one, then." He took her hand. They approached reluctantly.
From the street all that could be seen was the buzzing sign and the low concrete housing which supported it. From the sidewalk the open end of the housing shone brightly; its incandescent warmth lit concrete stairs descending between yellow-tiled walls to a yellow-tiled corridor, hollow, tinging just audibly with past echoes. It was warm. Sitvar and Frishta stood at the top of the stairs and felt the warm air puff at their faces. It was dry, and clean, though it smelled faintly of oiled steel and urine. Sitvar and Frishta descended and turned into the corridor.
"Look," said Sitvar. "I chose the right one. There's a Cadbury's machine and I've got sixpence." He dropped Frishta's hand to run toward the chocolate machine. It stood red and chrome against the yellow tile wall next to a doorway's "Gentlemen." A gate closed the doorway. The frosted glass barrier immediately inside was dark like a night window in the reflection of yellow from the corridor. Sitvar did not look. He pulled a lever. A chocolate bar clunked in the receiving tray of the machine. Frishta touched his elbow.
"I want some."
Sitvar tore the package away in long strips, which he dropped on the floor. "Some." He smiled at the naked chocolate bar in his hand. He broke an end off and gave it to Frishta.
She began to lick it. Her half-closed eyes wandered over they doorway "Gentlemen." She slid her tongue in a circle. Her eyes widened at the padlock on the gate; she looked down the corridor. "Look, Sitvar."
The other end of the corridor was barred by an extendable steel gate. From it hung a yellow sign with black lettering: CLOSED. As Sitvar raised his chocolate bar to his mouth he said, "Damn."
They began to walk slowly down the corridor. Sitvar with his front teeth shaved small bits of the chocolate bar into his mouth. Frishta put her wet piece of chocolate into her mouth and rubbed it vigorously with her tongue. They ate loudly. At the gate they stooped and peered through.
Beyond the gate was a spacious, tenebrious pentagonal chamber; turnstiles and ticket machines and ticket windows cast shadows from sparse night-lights. Warm air ascended the escalator shafts and pressed its way out the four entrance corridors of the chamber, almost hooting. Frishta pressed her face against the wind and the gate. Before her the light from the corridor lay in criss-crossed diamonds cast by the diagonal steel bars of the gate. Yellow splotched selectively high piles of tomorrow's newspapers stacked, half a dozen, half as high piles of tomorrow's newspapers stacked, half a dozen, half as high as a man, ten feet from Frishta. She swallowed her chocolate. By craning her neck slightly she could see to her left a poster-sized Map of Underground Routes. In the dark, she could barely read the large letters of its title; the lines of the routes were obscure and complex. Frishta spoke to the map, softly, and tried, "Circle Line or District Line to St. James Park."
A harsh metallic screech grated across the chamber. Frishta started. Sitvar was looking at her, surprised. He swallowed his chocolate. The sound grated again, then continued regularly scraping. It came from behind the newspapers. Frishta took Sitvar's hand. Into the dappled light from behind the newspapers came a dwarfed man, a man with no legs. He pushed himself along on a wooden platform with metal wheels which shrieked against the concrete floor. He did not look up until he reached the bars of the gate. Sitvar stepped back; Frishta clung to him.
The man looked at them. He rested his arms before him as if he were standing at a counter; his hands, calloused fingers bent under, lay each in a diamond of light. The shadow of a bar split his face; he seemed to have two faces, whiskered, shriveled, independent of each other: he shut one watering eye, then the other; as he moved his head the bar gave his nose to one side of his face, then the other. He wore on his head a knit cap. The skirt of his heavy gray jacket hung over the edge of his platform, frayed. He pulled crooked lips away from dark teeth. He bent his head back to scrutinize Sitvar. He called to him wheezing, "what do you want?"
Sitvar smiled forcedly. He shuffled from foot to foot. Frishta clung to him more, wide-eyed. Sitvar stammered, "Tube, you know. Take the tube." The cripple did not replay, but stated at Sitvar. The wind gave the smell of the man to Sitvar. Sitvar grew anxious under his eye; in order to speak, he asked, "Do you" -- he broke eyes with the man -- "sell newspapers here?"
The man wheezed croaking laughter and Shrieked the wheels of his platform as he yanked himself clattering into the bars of the gate. He peered up at Sitvar and then at Frishta and locked his eyes on her and narrowed them, squinted them, grinning. "No." He spoke straining for air. "I don't sell newspapers. I am only here at night." Frishta turned away. The cripple yelled at Sitvar, "What do you want? What do you want?"
"The tube," Sitvar murmured. He saw that he stood beyond the cripple's reach.
"Yes, when will it open?"
"It won't, I tell you, it's closed CLOSED."
Sitvar apologized quietly. "Oh, I didn't know." He looked wonderingly at Frishta.
She said. "Why did we come? It's closed." She pushed herself away from Sitvar and began to run down the corridor. Sitvar stood a moment. The cripple began to choke and scream in frenzied laughter. He pulled himself up against the bars, all the while chortling, gasping howling.
"Yes." Sitvar steered them into the cold, from the mercury vapor into Kensington Palace Road -- cold, crusted lights. "A cripple!" Sitvar shook his head.
Frishta nodded. She thought. She intoned softly, "Circle Line or District Line to St. James Park."
Sitvar was puzzled. "Yes, I know." Frishta did not look at him. Sitvar mused. "What I like about London is St. James Park."
Frishta looked at him. She said, "Go on."
They went on.
GLASTNBURY ROSE a distant hummock of glittering light, an island festooned with candle-bright pearls, a gaudy, distracting constellation giving the rest of the sky a blacker grip on the snowfields of the horizon. Facing Glastonbury, his path driven through the icy crust of a farmer's field to its empty center, Brian sat huddled in blankets, wrapped around him, tucked under, and over him, in a deep cowl, so that his face was invisible and only hoary breath indicated life. Brian closed the black from his eyes and a million rippling cilia beat red against his eyeballs. The alien spoke in Brian's mind, "Do you remember?" Brian strove to collapse his leering, frozen smile. His mother had been quite explicit, "Take your finger out of your nose." Do have teacups with us," said the alien seizing Brian's metal thumb. Brian's hot tea seared his throat. He ventured politely, "Lebanese, I presume? Not that I mean to offend." The alien, with a curious sense of propriety, became green, though amorphous beyond the hot throb of the eye furnaces. "Thank-you." Brian could not help tittering. The voice echoed: "One billion kilowatts between your fingers! The vastness of the universe!" Brian droned, "Om. Om. Om." past shooting stars. Frishta ran ahead of him, scrambling across the rubble, glancing back to laugh without noise. Frishta wrote his name on the blackboard at the front of the room and underlined it three times. She wore a white wig with long curls. She pointed at him with the chalk, "Brian, you are sixteen years old, Brian." Brian hung his head humbly before he expanded to smash the ceiling from the room which diminished into the black earth below him as he filled the dome of cloud-white sky. "Do you remember?" Brian hung his head in exasperation. "What? What" Between his toes he felt the seaside sand as he ran towards his mother. "Mummy?"
"Om. Om. Om."
The white-robed old man faced Brian, enthroned on a bed of long-stemmed roses. The heavy incense was like fluid in his nose; Brian felt sick. The old man said kindly, "We have waited long for you, my son."
Brian responded as he knew he should, "I, too, have waited long." He struggled not to faint beneath the incense.
The old man gazed down on Brian, pacifically, and asked as if to a child, "Do you remember me?"
Brian did not remember. He bit his lip to taste blood. The incense united with the taste of blood and filled his head. He began to speak mechanically, remembering the words as he uttered them: "Om. Ask not that which has no answer. Om. Ask not of the Jewel in the Lotus. Om. Ask not what cannot be forgotten, O my mentor."
The old man smiled in approbation. He took a rose from his side and let it drift down to Brian, whose hand raised to grab it. Remember further, my son, Seek and ye shall find." Brian marvelled as blood oozed from his hand around the rose-thorns, without pain. The old man's voice grew tired, "Until unison, let time to no distance. You may smell three times." Brian brought the rose to his face.
Brian found himself in the dark forest naked and shivering. He forced himself to stop shivering, so that he could hear the forest's rustling, pattering, far-off warblings, tiny shrieks. His eyes adjusted to the light. He heard behind him heavy breathing, damp and steady. He turned to face the panther a few yards from him, its breath white smoke in its black nostrils. Brian stepped back mindlessly. The panther bared its canines, but did not move. Brian stepped back, and back, until his shoulders smashed against a tree trunk, knocking the breath out of him. The panther leapt, its teeth bared, its claws outstretched, as Brian twisted the length of his body behind the tree and ran screaming with panic scrambling among roots safe. Brian pressed his hands against his bare belly to stop laughing.
A rabbit path made a tunnel through the nettles. Brian crawled on all fours, carefully, to keep his skin from brushing the nettles, and as quickly as possible, for he knew the time was short. The nettles stopped; the pillars of the forest began. Brian stood, raised himself on his toes and spread his arms to stretch. He felt his heels sink slightly into the ground as he put his weight on them. He became uneasy when he realized he did not know where to go. No path lay before him. He turned, squinting, but could not pierce the pillared gloom beneath the ceiling of leaves. Brian did not know what to do. The forest began on rustle. From the rustle emerged a flapping, a nearby beating or wings. An owl landed on a branch above Brian's head, blinked at him, and flew away. Brian smiled. He knew. He patted the ground below him to make sure it was soft, then sat in the Posture or the Buddha. He closed his eyes and murmured, "Om." He opened his eyes. Far ahead, slatted by numberless tree trunks and diffused by undergrowth, a distant hummock of light glittered in the darkness. Brian's route was circuitous and difficult. Walls of thorns barred his way; branches of fallen trees ripped at him. He persevered, but as he groped near, the light grew dimmer. He tripped on a root and fell flat, but when he looked up he met the eyes of the Norwegian boy, who stood, fully clothed, his hands at his sides, as if in moonlight, at the center of a sandy clearing, a circle of sand in the middle of the forest. Brian raised his aching body, and walked towards they boy. He felt the sand between his toes. The boy did not speak. Brian asked, "What are you doing here?" The boy held his arms towards Brian, fist closed. Brian looked at the fist. The boy opened it, revealing a black spider which hopped from his hand and scuttered away. From where it landed on the sand there grew a rose. Brian knelt to smell it.
Brian found himself in the Posture of the Buddha, the small of his back slightly bent to compensate for the slope of the horsehair couch in his living room. Sitvar and Frishta, with a rose in her hair, staggered before him, leaning back against the surge of a crowd behind them. Brian could not focus on the faces of the crowd. Sitvar saw Brian and raised an arm in salute, intoning, "All hail!" The crowd murmured behind him. Brian noticed that Sitvar supported with his other arm golden-haired Ro, who slept with his arms about his father's neck. Sitvar planted his feet to keep the crowd back. Frishta sat on the couch next to Brian. He noticed she was pregnant.
Frishta said, "Hello, Brian. You promised you would tell me."
Brian found himself saying, "Ask not that which has no answer." He stopped himself. He said and realized, "Frishta, you must not move me. Don't make me move."
Frishta laughed and put her hand on the back of his neck, resting her chin on his shoulder.
"Frishta, please. It's very important."
"But why, Brian? Is it because I'm pregnant?" Frishta stroked his lips with her finger. "It's Sitvar's, not yours. I wouldn't want your baby!" Frishta rolled back on the couch laughing, her hands on her stomach.
Brian was upset. As he said. "I don't see what's so funny," his voice cracked, surprising him and stopping Frishta's laugh abruptly.
Frishta was eager, "Can you do that again?"
Brian felt proud and embarrassed. "No no. It just happened. It hasn't happened in years."
"I think it's wonderful." Frishta put her arms around his chest. "Perhaps if you practiced you could do it always?"
Brian was angry, but dared not move his arms out of position to push her back. "Practice, hell. What do you want?" Brian began to be afraid. "Frishta don't move me, please."
Frishta threatened savagely, "I'll have Sitvar let the crowd by!"
Brian wondered at the threat. "Why? What are they here for?"
Frishta rolled back on the couch laughing, her hands on her stomach. She gasped out, "You don't remember, do you, Brian?"
Brian smiled deceptively, "Who is Brian?"
Frishta dug her fingernails into his arm, making him afraid she would move it. "Don't try that one, Brian. You're as naked as the day you were born."
Brian commented, "so I am."
Frishta hugged him again, murmuring, "There, there. It's all right."
"Please be careful. What do you want?"
"What do you want?"
"We're getting nowhere."
"Where are we, then. Do you remember?"
Brian tried to remember. He decided to change the subject. "You must be careful not to move me, you know."
"I'll just hug you. Frishta's hug became a vice.
"I can't breathe."
"Sorry." Frishta relaxed her grip.
"Thanks." Frishta's breath became gelid against his ear. "Your breath is cold."
Frishta screamed, like sleet against his ear, "If it's not one thing it's another! I'll tell Sitvar!"
Brian became earnestly anxious. He spoke soothingly, "Please, please, calm down. You mustn't move me."
Frishta rested her chin gently on his shoulder. "I'll be careful, I promise." She began slowly to slide on hand over his chest and one down his back.
Frishta's icy mouth seized his ear, then trailed down his neck to kiss his shoulder. Brian smelled the rose in her hair.
Brian found himself exhausted clutching the slippery seaweed on the rock. With the roar of enormous volume water shot around him, high above him, in a solid biting spray which settled into the rising wave, the expansion of the breathing sea which submerged the rock and Brian who clung desperately strangling to keep from his lungs the saltwater gorging his mouth and nose. The water plummeted to leave his body to driven spray which Brian gulped at desperately as he felt his numbed ribs slide across the rock's jaggedness and slippery cold closer to the baying black undulation of the rearing water. Gritting his teeth hissing for air between them.
Sitvar ran, He overtook Frishta at the top of the stairs. Frishta was trembling. He put her hand in his pocket. "Shall we go back, then?"
Brian forced back the locked fingers of one hand to secure a better handhold when the water was upon him surging past the rock an unassailable atmosphere sucking his body from the rock like a streamer while Brian screamed for his hand not to let go until he lusted for air with the sea parting his lips and the spray stung his body again while he gasped and grappled at the seaweed for his handhold. spray shrieked until the water buried him like an avalanche rising higher and higher and heavier until its tons pushed Brian's breath out his nose budding like festoons of candle-bright pearls which spiraled up through the deep waters to the surface furor so high above. Brian breathed in the water. It filled his lungs, tingling, cold, and touched his heart which pumped its soothing cold towards his limbs. Brian let go. The deep sea lifted him from the rock in a gentle somersault which merged his body with the sea, weightless, will-less the sea in his veins. As the sea filled his skull Brian smiled. He curled his body into a ball and felt it dissolve in ripples.
In the center of a farmer's field huddled blankets toppled in the snow.
THE ECLIPSE OF THE SPANISH sun spoke an incantation: "Man, do you know where I can score some shit?"
Phil squinted up at the silhouette, then in a one-armed hug forced Maureen to sit back on the curb so he could see Aleck, who sat next to her. Phil saluted Aleck sternly, "Quartermaster?"
Aleck nodded. He spoke thougtfully. "We're low but we could use the bread."
Phil squinted up to say, "Sorry, no shit. We have a bit of bush though." Phil gesticulated. "Down, man. You're blinding me, sun and all."
The silhouette squatted. "What is bush?" He smiled to explain his ignorance, "I am Danish."
Phil thrust his face a foot from the Dane's and said in a slurred burst, "Danish, what? Well, well, speak well, you do at that and we're English of course--must have guessed. What's your name?"
Maureen pulled Phil back, and put her hand on his to keep him from drumming on his knee.
"Pelle." He grinned. Maureen leaned forward in smiles, "And you English are rather easy to recognize."
"Bush is dirty kief, with twigs and seeds. I'm Maureen. I'm American. They're English--well, Aleck is Scottish actually. How do you think of yourself. Aleck?"
Aleck answered, "Let's go up on the hill and smoke."
Phil shot up, carrying Maureen upright with him, and stormed up the slope of the sun-dry street. Maureen stumbled alongside in his one-armed grip.
Aleck looked at Pelle and rose, raising Pelle with his eyes. "Come on." Aleck walked slowly. Over his shoulder he carried a leather pouch, a purse, embroidered in purple geometries. It bobbed away from his body as he leaned into the incline; it flapped against his leg.
Pelle chatted, "Have you been at Arenys del Rio long?"
Aleck considered. He was breathing hard. "A week. A week and a half?" He looked to his feet. Where the steepness of the hill prevented more building the road changes into a dirt path railed, and with an occasional bench, so that its zigzag route up the brown hillside among scruffy pines could be called a park.
Pelle resumed, "I arrived last night. I had a ride the total distance from Algeciras."
Aleck asked attentively, "Algeciras? Did you go to Tangiers?"
"And you didn't bring any stuff back?"
"The customs now inspects all suitcases. It forces you to undress yourself if you have long hair."
Aleck brushed sweat-damp hair out of his eyes. "Things have changed since I went through there." Aleck stopped to rest, half-crouched with still arms on his knees. "Dashed bastard went to the top." He yelled up the hillside, "Phil!"
Phil's distant voice was out of control: "Hoot! Hoot! Sluggards! Sluggards!"
Aleck turned to the path. As the two climbed the pines grew thicker and the dry ground changed to turf of brown needles.
"Have you been to Tangiers?"
"Have you been elsewhere in Morocco?"
"Fez. Marrakesh. I lived six months in Marrakesh." Aleck paused. His forehead creased. "At dawn the mountains beyond Marrakesh are as clean as wet rocks, until they disappear in the heat haze." The two climbed in silence.
Phil and Maureen, framed beneath two gnarled trees, sat on the verge of a bluff overlooking the windy hillside treetops below and the hillside opposite, which grew out of the ground in a massive mirror image that crowded the town below against its riverbanks to leave no exit except the sea--and the white beach. Phil's mouth covered Maureen's. As Aleck and Pelle approached Phil withdrew and pulled his wet tongue above her upper lip, to her nostrils, along the ridge of her nose, to one eyelid, then the other. Maureen's throat laughed lasciviously, but when Phil looked up towards Aleck she wiped her face on her sleeve.
Phil waved both arms in greeting. "You take you time, man. Toss me your purse."
"And smash all the bottles, I suppose."
Pelle said, "This is a very fine view." All sat.
Phil rummaged in the purse, clinking and rustling. "Christ, how do you find anything in here? How does it look?"
Aleck lay back to watch the sky. "It's that little brown paper package. And the papers always fall to the bottom."
Maureen cautioned Aleck, "Don't lie down. There's these big black ants."
Aleck set up brushing himself vigorously. "God damn you! Now I'll feel ants all over me." He scowled at the sea as his hands still wandered over his clothes.
"Got it." In pulling the drawstring of the purse. Phil dropped a brown paper package, a packet of cigarette papers, and a box of matches. As he fumbled among them he muttered, "Christ. Papers. Christ." He pulled several papers fluttering from the packet like confetti. As he grabbed at the papers to keep them from blowing away, he said to Pelle, "We can give you a matchbox full for three hundred pesetas."
"That is expensive."
"But, man! Spain! Spanish Gestapo! Limited Supply! It's what it cost us, and you're smoking now, too." Phil began to slaver the papers together, making them too wet to stick well.
Aleck offered considerately, "I'll do it, man." He took the packet of papers to begin anew. He hunched to work intently, raptly.
Pelle said, "All right, man. Three hundred pesetas, man."
Maureen leaned forward in smiles. "What do you do?"
Pelle answered promptly. "I am a medical student in Copenhagen. We have a vacation after examinations, that is why I am here."
Maureen blinked appreciatively, "But do all medical students take drugs and speak English so very well?"
Pelle beamed. "Thank-you. I have studied languages. I speak eight Not speak Latin and Ancient Greek, of course. But there is German , and French, and a little Spanish. Danish, of course, and my mother was Swedish. And English, or course."
Phil seized Maureen as he said proudly, "Languages, shit. English is enough for me. I say, "Let the fuckers learn my language, and they always do." Phil spread his free arm expansively.
Aleck put a double-length cigarette with cardboard filter in the outstretched hand, and began immediately to make another.
"Well, well." Phil brought his hand to his face. "Matches?" Absent-mindedly Aleck tossed the box of matches. Opening it, Phil scattered the red-tipped matches on the ground. Phil's first match broke in half against the striking board; he lit the second. Maureen and Pelle watched with interest.
"That is a very big joint!"
Phil sipped smoke. "Always make them like this. In England. Aleck's a machine. One after another. All night. Aleck!" Phil had jerked his hand away from his face to offer the cigarette to Aleck. Aleck sucked briefly and deeply, while one hand spun a fresh cigarette between finger and thumb. He held the lit one out to Maureen, who reached from Phil's one armed embrace for it, but could not reach far enough. Phil's free hand was pattering on his knee. Maureen nudged Phil, caught his eyes, and nodded towards the proffered cigarette beyond her outstretched fingertips. She wanted him to take it for her. Phil follower her nod towards Aleck, then Aleck's spinning hand. You've made a new one already!" Aleck thrust the burning cigarette before Phil's face. Phil's hand grabbed it and put it in his mouth. As he inhaled his neck turned back from Aleck to the more comfortable face-forward position. He faced Pelle. Maureen took the cigarette form his mouth for herself. Phil's lips felt at the space where the cigarette had been, and then began to speak: "Vacation? It that what you said? Holiday, Did you pinch DMT in this stuff, Aleck? Aren't we, Maureen, on a holiday? Your lovely auntie--her lovely auntie sent her the money to fly back to America because we were all busted at Aleck's flat. No problem, first offense all round, small fine for each of us. Have a holiday before court. Put a lot of the bread in a big hash deal. Have you ever had Lebanese shit?" Pelle started to answer. Phil whirled to Aleck. "You did, didn't you, man? Just so I know what's in it, and we've got to watch this counter-reaction with the demerol, because no more thorazine, right?."
Aleck handed Phil the second cigarette, lit., His voice was calm. "It's safe, remember, that bird in Istanbul did it."
As he inhaled Phil again faced Pelle, whom Maureen had given her cigarette. Phil resumed: "Istanbul, busted there, too. Aleck and me, Thrown in prison. We got high on newsprint, smoking fucking newsprint. Fantastic ink. Printers must be addicted. I turned into a lion for there weeks. They let us both out. Same thing in Spain. They'll throw you in prison, no questions, years and years, awful."
Pelle interjected, "This shit is very strong."
Aleck told him, "It's the DMT, man. You can sacrifice a few brain cells." Pelle became uneasy. He handed the cigarette to Aleck.
Phil continued: "DMT is no sacrifice, man. We were on a real brain burner in France: neuramine. It came as a fraction in these vitamin pills you can get in literally any chemist's in France, but you have to take a while fucking bottle to get any effect, see? So we went into the thing feeling like martyrs, like Jesus Christ, and come out like mad Vikings. Keep your eye on these chemists. Try this Romular, Spanish cough cough syrup, cocaine derivative, a bomb, twelve pesetas a bottle."
Pelle turned from Phil to Aleck He asked earnestly, "Do you have all that in there?" He pointed to the purple-patterned purse.
Phil answered: "Various and sundry. Enough to get us back to England. Odds and ends. Maureen and I have six caps apiece in there, don't we, Aleck? It's been two and a half months we started on that. Maureen?" Maureen's eyes were closed. Her head lay against Phil's shoulder. He held her more tightly, flicked his cigarette away, and began to pinch her with his free hand until her eyes opened in protest. His voice had become plaintive, nervous: "Maureen Maureen Maureen. Wake up wake up. Can't let yourself fall asleep all the time."
Maureen said, "Stop pinching me."
"Falling asleep all the time. Can't be good, Maureen. It's been two and a half months, now, you know?" Phil looked at the ground as if he were still anxiously looking for papers, but his hand was still.
Maureen smiled at Pelle. Maureen asked, "What was this about your holiday?"
Pelle looked from Maureen, to Phil, to quite Aleck. He said to Aleck, "I do not understand."
Aleck commented succinctly. "I should think not."
Phil stood up, holding Maureen next to him. His voice pleaded, "Aleck, let's split, now, please." Before he stood, Aleck scooped into his purse the brown paper package and the packet of papers. Pelle stood because the others were. Phil said to him, his voice still plaintive, "No man. "We've got to split. You stay. God-bye." Phil took Aleck's hand so that he could walk with Maureen tight against one side and Aleck close by the other.
Pelle called after him, "Wait! A matchbox full for three hundred pesetas."
Phil neither stopped nor looked back, but replied, No, it's too much. Can't spare it. It's far too long." The pine trees soon hid the three.
Pelle sat. He looked below, at the town, and out across the sea. He shook his head. He noticed scattered on the ground about him red-tipped matches and their empty box. Pelle began to gather the matches in their box.
SITVAR TIREDLY CLIMBED the last flight of steps to his room. He fumbled with the key. The door always stuck, so he had to press it open with his shoulder. Ro ran up to him arms outstcetched, "Daddy! Daddy!"
"Hello, sweetheart." Sitvar hugged his son.
"I know Mrs. Poulos told me." Sitvar kicked the door shut behind him and carried Ro over to the sink, where Frishta was doing dishes. "So you're back again."
Sitvar put Ro down. "Do your crayons, kiddo." The walls of the room were covered with crayon drawings. Ro ran to the large table by the evening window. "I hear you had a bit of trouble getting Ro from Mrs. Poulos. She was quite upset."
"Crazy Greek woman. He's my child, not hers."
"Then again, who is it takes care of him every day? I've noticed the two of you have differing opinions on motherhood."
"Sitvar, please. Why start?"
"I suppose you're right." Sitvar mused. "If I had some bird here full time you couldn't quite pop in and out, could you?"
"Please." Frishta pulled the plug out of the sink.
"Didn't know I had any."
"You didn't. I bought it."
"Where'd you get money?"
"I've been modelling."
"Clothes or nude?"
"Surely not for artists. For dirty old men with cameras and no film?"
"London Art School."
"Well, keep it up. I was fired today. Lyons and Lyons no longer requires my services."
"What color is a frog?"
"Any color you want, sweetheart. Green, traditionally."
"I'll make it blue."
Won't it get lost in the water?"
"Carl though--Carl is the dishwasher, nice chap, might score some mescaline from him--Carl brought a couple of joints which we were having in the back room when the manager walks in, of course. He claimed we were lucky he didn't report us to the proper authorities.' Proper authorities, hell. I wonder where he learned to recognize the smell."
"I suppose you were lucky. He might have reported you."
"I was lucky, just to get booted. The place was awful. Alkies and winos, the whole crew, from the manager on down. Expect Carl. Disgusting."
"Tom's heard about a good job painting. They need several people. Easy work. They don't pressure you, and they don't care who you are."
"Tom? At Brian's?"
"Yes. I've been seeing Brian again."
"Don't say 'Oh.' It's silly how you two won't talk. Brian's just a kid, Sitvar. you're a man."
"Wow! What does that mean?"
Frishta stammered, I'm not sure."
"Neither am I."
"But those people never see you anymore. Straight Mick just mentioned you."
"straight Mick! How is he?"
"Fine. He's making a big score--big, over five kilos of Lebanese hash."
"He's bringing it back next Tuesday night. We could go over there."
"What about Ro? Mrs. Poulos won't do night duty."
"We can bring him. Say you'll go."
Sitvar considered. "All right. Why not. Free smoke."
Frishta turned the burner down under a large pan of boiling water. She took the lid from the pan of spaghetti sauce and sniffed as it. "Do you want to eat now? All I have to do is drop the spaghetti in."
"Sure. Let's eat." Sitvar rummaged three forks from a cabinet drawer. He took three plates from a shelf above the stove, and carried them to the table. "Push your crayons back, sweetheart. Lovely spaghetti."
"I don't like spaghetti."
"Good. I'll eat yours, then."
Sitvar returned for the pot of sauce and a large spoon. Frishta brought a platter of steaming spaghetti. The family sat down to dinner.
BRIAN PLACED A CAN of incense on the tile hearth and lit a match from the stove. The incense burned at first with a blue flame like the panel of the gas fire behind it, then subsided to lava orange smoldering sweet smoke. The couch creaked as Brian settled into his posture, settle himself for meditation. His eyes focused on the orange tip of incense, and did not move. His breathing was irregular; his tongue twisted silent syllables inside his closed mouth. A key clicked against the tumblers of the door's lock; the lock snapped back; the doorknob turned. Its chain rattled and the door shuddered slightly against the resistance of its bolt. Not until there was a violent thumping did Brian's eyes start form the incense. He's strode to the peephole to confirm shouts of, "Open up! It's Tom. Brian!" Brian opened the door.
Tom carried a stack of records; Aleck huffed behind him with a battered portable phonograph. Tom displayed the stack to Brian. "Look at all we got. Michael left his with Aleck. And I bought that new raga album on the way, too. My parents sent me an allowance."
Brian smiled., "Good. You have a straight, then?"
"Sure." Tom put the records on the floor, tossed his coat beside them, and took three cigarettes from a pack in his shirt pocket.
Brian lit another match at the stove. "How is Oregon, then?"
The question surprised Tom. "All right. They still want me to come back."
As Brian lit his cigarette, Aleck asked, "Where are Phil and Maureen?"
"They took a walk."
"Bastards. After they were 'too tired' to come to my place and help carry the music!"
Brian, who had himself refused to go, said, "I suppose."
"Let's set it up." Tom and Aleck squatted by the baseboard. Brian returned to the couch.
Aleck queried. "Do your fuses still blow?"
"I sincerely doubt it." Tom laughed. "Phil put a shilling in the fuse box. He tried to get me to do it, but I wouldn't. Then he almost electrocuted himself. Maureen and I flipped out, but he didn't think it was funny."
Aleck was concerned. "What if he'd killed himself?"
Brian interjected, "It didn't happen. Be careful not to think about it."
"Maybe you're right."
The door resounded with steady frenzied battering. "Open up! Forgot my key! Open! Open! Open!"
"There's Phil." Aleck answered the door.
Phil towed Maureen into the room. "Hello, hello, greetings all. I'm very glad to see the phonograph--hook it up, Tom!--and dear Aleck! Filthy Maureen has lost our spots. Don't suppose you brought some, what?"
"No. All I have left is blue caps, anyway."
"Don't want a blue cap tonight, do I? Must keep functioning. Man sees nine kilos together but once in this life." Phil squatted, pulling Maureen down beside him at the phonograph. "Here I am to help. Phil requests orders. Sir!"
Smiling Maureen blinked once at Tom, slowly. "Hello, Tom."
Tom, ignoring them, looked back over his shoulder at Aleck. "Does the dropper thing work on this?"
"No, it only plays one at a time. You have to push them down on it by hand."
Tom pushed his new record down over the sprcoket and pressed the reject lever. The turntable spun; the tone arm lifted itself onto the record. Phil carried Maureen up, whirled, and shouted to Brian, who was staring at the stove, "Look! It works! Technology strikes again!"
Tom said to Aleck, "There's no noise."
"It takes a while to warm up." Aleck squatted beside the machine to twirl the volume knob. "It's old, you know."
"Technology fucks up! Demand absolute obedience from your machine, Aleck. Destroy it."
Brian walked to the door. "We've got to keep this locked."
Tom pointed at the tone arm. "Look, man, it hasn't moved across the record at all."
Aleck lifted the tonearm and felt underneath it. "Shit, there's no needle."
"It must have fallen out." Tom looked about him on the floor.
"Someone stole it! Thieving bastards!"
Maureen offered, "Tom, I have a sewing needle?"
Phil laughed at her. "No thread though. Thieving bastards!"
Tom consulted Aleck. "How much does a new one cost?"
"I've never bought one. They're closed now, anyway."
Phil lamented, "No music! Maybe Beirut Beige is conducive to singing." A drumming of fingernails at the window alarmed Brian, who stood next to it. "He's here.!"
It's still too early, isn't it?" Aleck shook his head. "His fight was at nine. What time is it?"
Brian made out the dark figures through the peephole. "It's Frishta. And Sitvar."
"Haven't seen Sitvar in ages! Maybe he has a needle. Maybe he took it!"
Brian opened the door. Frishta and Sitvar were stamping their feet, staggering in the cold. Sitvar carried golden- haired Ro asleep in his arms. Brian backed away.
Frishta said, "We thought we'd help you taste your score."
Phil rushed Maureen to the door to pull Frishta inside. "As you shall, of course. Doubt we'll burn through it tonight."
Sitvar nodded all around, Phil interposing, "Aleck there. Went to Spain with Aleck." Sitvar asked, "Can I put Ro on your bed, Phil?"
"My bed is your bed is his bed: Ro revisists his place conception. Wonder what he'll dream about. Could sleep through a train crash, couldn't he. Just like you, eh Maureen?" Maureen has stroked the boy's hair. Sitvar took him to the bedroom.
Frishta looked at Brian, who had interrupted Tom's search at the machine to ask for a cigarette. Tom proffered the pack to her while Brian walked by her, not meeting her eyes, looking only at the door, which he relocked. Frishta took a cigarette, as did Aleck. Tom lit them. Brian returned to the couch, where he lit his cigarette and looked only at it.
Phil said, "what's going on here? I'll have one." He took two and gave one to Maureen. They lit them before Tom had to put out his match. Phil exhorted, "Smoke up, man! Your fags and you the only one not smoking. Get them while they last. I intend to take two more the instant these are out."
Tom smiled and lit a cigarette. "Can't find the fucking needle." All smoke a moment. Sitvar returned, and Tom threw the pack of cigarettes at him with mock anger, "There you go, you old bastard."
Frishta took off her coat, pulling a white papers sack from the pocket. "Look what I brought. Anise seeds. Like licorice. They eat them in India after meals, like a liqueur."
Aleck asked, "where did you get them?"
"That occult book shop on Southampton Row opened a head shop in the basement. They have camomile, too." She held out the sack. "Try some."
"How many should I take?"
Just a few. Chew them. Maureen?"
Maureen declined. "No thanks. I'd freak on anything new just now."
"They don't get you high. They're just licorice."
"No, no. Thank's. Everyone else had some, except Brian, who did not look up from his cigarette when Frishta offered the seeds to him.
Phil steered Maureen to the couch, and sat next to Brian. Everyone else sat on the floor.
Frishta asked, "When is your trial, Phil?"
Phil rapped his knuckles on the wooden floor as he said, "Good God, Frishta! Let's not be mentioning trials tonight, what? Two days, for better or worse."
Aleck volunteered, "My flat was busted a month ago, a real horror. But it should work out all right."
"Yes." There was a pause.
Maureen reflected, "I was never so excited in my life." Phil rapped his knuckles on the floor.
Frishta asked. "How was your trip?"
Phil reared back on the couch. "By God, may I never travel again. We got an orange truck all the way from Barcelona to Les Halls, but rides were hell, wouldn't stop, and can't say I blamed them with the three of us looking like a fucking gypsy caravan loaded up to the ears with, Christ, the suitcase we started out with and a huge basket full of Maureen's fucking sheashells and out blankets and all these clothes--you blew half the bread on clothes, Maureen--and Aleck bought a guitar and this three foot long water pipe with knobs so you couldn't carry it under yours arm and you even had that bookpress you bastard, I said we had at least to get rid of that."
Aleck interrupted,. "I need that bookpress to press hash, man. You'll be glad to have it now."
Brian snuffed out his cigarette, his abstraction. "It's supposed to be pressed already."
Sitvar said, "Shouldn't he be here by now? "It was nine when Frishta and I left."
Tom agreed. "I wonder what time it is. Does anyone have a watch?"
"No." Shoulder shrugged.
"Do you suppose he's been busted?"
Brian assented. "I told him it was a bad week to go. If he'd left this week it would have been a different matter."
Aleck said, "Are you ready for more excitement, Maureen? They might have forced this address out of him." They all reconsidered.
Sitva said, "Toss me the anise seeds."
Fingernails drummed on the window. No one moved. Tom said, "The cops wouldn't know to tap on the window, would they?" He stood up.
Sitva said, "The cops know everything."
Tom peered through the Buddha's eye, and said elated, "It's Mick!"
Brian's voice was ominous. "They might have sent him ahead as a decoy."
Tom threw open the door. All stared in silence at Mick, blue overcoat, two suitcases. "Not a hitch. I tipped the cabbie a pound."
Frishta rose cheering, "Straight Mick! What a score!" Tom clapped him on the back as he walked in, then locked the door behind him. Everyone clustered around him, except, except Brian, who remained on the couch. Mick beamed.
"What's it like?"
"You're sure you weren't tailed?"
"I'm going to eat an ounce before the trial."
"Let's see it."
Mick took off his coat and gave it to Aleck. "Man, that's a heavier than average coat, isn't it?" He addressed everyone. "The shit is great. It turned out to be only eight kilos, but that's still a good price."
Brian said, "Christ, what happened?"
"Fuck you, Brian! I risk two sets of customs and you bitch abut a lousy ki! My score said two settle for the eight or leave them. Man, you would have liked souvenirs instead?"
Phil urged, "Open it up, Mick. Let's eat."
Tom said, "We better leave most of it packed up, to be safe."
Mick grinned. "We'll just take off enough to smoke tonight." He knelt and opened the large suitcase, tossing clothes on the floor. He took from his pocket a small screwdriver, and removed four screws from the bottom of the suitcase. He told Tom and Sitvar, "Hold it upside down, with me under it." Mick tapped inside the suitcase while the two held it, all spectators rapt. Suddenly Mick held on both hands a tray sized rectangle of plywood on which rested an equally large slab like beige sandstone wrapped in clear plastic.
Phil leapt up in the air almost toppling Maureen, "I can't believe it! I can't believe it!"
Mick guffawed at his irony, "Three kilos! Do you think this bit will last the night? Shall we scratch off a few grains?"
Brian yelled at him, "Use the kitchen table."
Mick did not respond, but carried the slab on one hand above his head ("Be careful, man!") in the center of a press for the kitchen.
Frishta smiled after him, then found herself alone in the room with Brian.
Brian said, "I saw them."
Tom rushed into the room. "Brian, man, papers and tobacoo?"
"On the shelf above my bed. Doesn't Phil have any?"
Tom hurried towards Brian's bedroom, smiling. As he passed Frishta he kissed her on the cheek. Frishta and Brian looked at each other, waiting, until Tom skipped back into the kitchen.
"I saw them. At Glastonbury."
From the kitchen they heard Phil's voice rise above the other, "Fucking Aleck's a machine! Look at him!"
Frishta sat next to Brian on the couch. She put her hand on the back of his neck. "What did they say, Brian?"
Brian crowed, "Damned if I tell you!"
Frishta grabbed his arm, digging into it with her fingernails "what did they say, you bastard! Please, tell me. I want to know."
"Good God Frishta! Please don't move me!"
Brian's voice was asphyxiated, alarming. Frishta let go of him. "Brian? tears stopped. His eyes darted uncontrollably about the room.
Mick, Phil and Maureen, and Tom entered the room noisily. Frishta looked at them dumbly.
Mick, unnoticing, stood before her with the others grinning behind him. His hands were at his sides. "Frishta, I've decided that only you should have the honor of starting this first small joint." He showed her his hand. The white shaft of a cigarette disappeared up his cuff. He pulled it out dramatically. Frishta's eyes widened. She laughed. It was a foot long, slightly bowed.
Phil jumped up and down, "I can't believe it! I can't believe it!," finally carrying Maureen down on the floor with him.
Frishta held the cigarette in front of Brian. His eyes Mick lit it for her. "Look, it even draws!"
Frishta held htt cigarette in front of Brian. His eyes focused on it. He smiled, and looked at the faces around him. He took the cigarette. "This looks like a Mick." Mick smiled.
Brian gave the cigarette to Phil, who lay on his back, Maureen struggling to free herself. Phil held the cigarette straight up in his mouth, and puffed furiously. "Look at my smokestack!"
Sitvar entered from the kitchen with Aleck. "How much does this mescaline cost? I've only heard ridiculous prices."
Phil shouted and jerked up swiping at his face. "God damn it, Mick!" The burning ember had dropped onto his forehead.
Mick said, "It's not my fault you were a stupid smokestack." He took the cigarette for himself. Phil murmured "First Aid" and left for the bathroom.
Aleck revealed on his palm a pile of standard-sized hand-rolled. "Sitvar and I thought one apiece, for a start." He threw a cigarette to everyone, then resumed with Sitvar, "He told me ten bob a cap, so I can get it for you at that."
Mick began with Frishta, "You don't want just one drag from the longest joint in the world, do you?"
Maureen, finding herself alone, smiled at Tom. "Light mine, Tom?"
Tom struck a match and sighed as if to reconcile himself. "It's been a long time, Maureen."
Phil bounded back from the kitchen and seized Brian by the shoulders. "Do you realize how much there is? We're going to make